Ahead of a meeting between leaders of Hong Kong's protest movement and the government, the city's top official says all were 'lucky' to avoid intervention from Beijing. Meanwhile, the protests remain calm.
Senior Hong Kong government officials are set to meet student leaders on Tuesday in an attempt to defuse more than three weeks of student pro-democracy demonstrations in the city. The student-led movement is calling for free elections in Hong Kong in 2017, but the central government in Beijing insists on screening candidates first. The protesters continued their stand-off with the police in Asian financial centre ahead of key talks, although no new clashes were reported.
Hong Kong's chief executive Leung Chun-ying reiterated his position that free elections were impossible. Leung warned of the dangers of populism and insisted that the electoral system needs to protect minority groups: "If it's entirely a numbers game and numeric representation, then obviously you'd be talking to the half of the people in Hong Kong who earn less than US $1,800 a month," he said in the interview Tuesday. Leung also told the foreign newspapers that Hong Kong had been "lucky" that Beijing had not yet felt the need to intervene in the stand-off.
Leungs' remarks could further upset the student protesters. Critics say the political system already favors the rich in Hong Kong, a city which has one of the biggest wealth gaps in Asia and where the vast majority of people cannot afford their own home. The protesters decry vetting of candidates as "fake" Chinese-style democracy, and say they won't leave the streets unless Beijing allows open nominations.
Major intersections in the southern Chinese city have been paralyzed by mass rallies demanding free elections for more than three weeks, in one of the biggest challenges to Beijing's authority since the Tiananmen pro-democracy protests of 1989.
Although Hong Kong's streets have been calm Tuesday, dozens of people were injured in two nights of clashes over the weekend in the Mong Kok shopping district, including 22 police.
On “equal footing” with the government
Leung Chun-ying will not take part in Tuesday's talks. Instead, he will send five envoys including Hong Kong's number-two official, Chief Secretary Carrie Lam. Giant screens will be set up in protest zones to beam the talks live to demonstrators.
"This is a historic moment because it's the first time ever in Hong Kong that a group of protesters are able to sit on an equal footing with the government, to say: 'we don't agree with you, we want democracy'," said Nathan Law, a member of the Hong Kong Federation of Students.
The student protest leaders and the government are sending five representatives each to the talks, to be held Tuesday evening. However, hopes remain low for any breakthrough during the evening talks, with both sides refusing to give ground in resolving the political crisis. Beijing believes it has offered enough concessions to the former British colony in the past and will not change its position, sources say.
dj/mz (dpa, Reuters, AFP)